Can You Hike in Jeans? (6 Pro Tips To Stay Comfy And Safe)
I’ll never forget the first time I went camping with my dad.
I was so excited to get out into the wilderness for a weekend full of adventure! But my excitement quickly turned to dread as the first few raindrops began to fall on the windshield of the pickup as we headed into the mountains for the weekend.
Why did my anticipation turn to anxiety?
All I had brought to wear for this weekend on my legs were jeans! I hoped against all hope that the rain would subside, but unfortunately it did not. I was in for a weekend of suffering from cold legs!
If you are like me, you most likely have a closet full of jeans. They’re cheap and durable, but the question of “can you hike in jeans” is one that we at Gear Up Hiking get a lot. In short, yes, you can hike in jeans, but the best thing to do is to leave the jeans at home for pants that are made out of a synthetic material.
But are there times where you can wear jeans while hiking? How do you figure those times out? What fabrics are better to use than cotton jeans?
Don’t worry, we’ve heard your questions and want to help you make the best decision in preparing for your next hike! By the end of this guide, you’ll know:
- How to identify the pros and cons of hiking in jeans.
- The risks involved with hiking in jeans.
- The best environments and seasons to hike in jeans.
- The worst environments and seasons to hike in jeans.
- The best fabrics to wear while hiking.
- What to do if you can’t avoid hiking in denim jeans.
The Pros and Cons of Hiking in Jeans
One of the great things about wearing jeans while you go hiking is that they are cheap and easy to buy. You can practically walk into any clothing store and buy a set of jeans!
They are so popular that their global market value continues to grow fast every year. It’s expected to cross $85.4 billion in retail sales by the end of 2025.
They’re also really durable.
That’s probably why they were invented by the Navy during WWII! WWII navy uniforms evolved to make sailors comfortable while they worked in tight spaces.
It was also necessary to create a fabric that was durable and easily repairable and replaceable. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are appropriate for hiking.
Jeans are made out of cotton fabric (Denim fabric), which is great if you’re in an environment where you can get dry quickly.
But if you’re out on the trail, you don’t have access to a fresh pair of jeans in the same way you would onboard a ship!
There’s a saying that we say in the outdoor industry that goes something like “cotton kills.” This illustrates one of the biggest problems that you can encounter while wearing jeans while hiking.
Cotton tends to absorb water when it comes in contact with wet surfaces, which causes it to stay wet for a long time.
But why is that a problem?
Wouldn’t cool, wet jeans be a welcome relief when you’re hiking? You really need to evaluate some of the risks before making that call!
Evaluating the Risks of Hiking in Jeans
Do you remember getting out of the pool on a hot summer day?
What tends to happen to you if the wind starts blowing? Are you as comfortable as you were before when you were in the pool?
If you were anything like we were, you sprinted to that towel you had laying out in the grass or on the concrete deck of the pool!
Why did that happen?
Well, it’s a fairly simple explanation. When you get wet, you are much more susceptible to losing body heat.
Make sure to watch the video below that well demonstrates what happens when you put on your jeans in winter. Let alone hiking.
Water cools the body down and the wind that blows across a wet body robs the body of even more heat!
Now imagine going hiking and what happens to your body as you march up a trail. You most likely are sweating, right? Well, much like getting out of a pool in the summertime, your body will cool down.
As mentioned earlier, the cotton will absorb that sweat and stay wet throughout your hike! Yeah, wet jeans suck! Heck, wet clothing suck.
If you’re hiking in warmer temperatures, this might be a welcomed surprise. But if you’re hiking in cooler temperatures (and anything below 50°F can be considered cool!), you can put yourself at risk for hypothermia! Especially during winter.
Before you reach for a set of jeans to wear on your next hike, be sure that the season and environment that you plan to go hiking in is safe for wearing jeans! It's almost like hiking in Converse. Risky.
The Best Seasons to Hike in Jeans
The best seasons to hike in jeans are Spring and Fall and in cool, dry environments.
Spring and Fall tend to be much milder with their temperatures, which means that you won’t be too hot or too cold when you go hiking.
If you get too hot, you can definitely expect to sweat through your Denim jeans and Denim fabric, which will make them uncomfortable to continue hiking in for an extended period of time.
If you’re hiking in cold temperatures, you can put yourself at risk of hypothermia if you end up sweating while wearing denim jeans.
Dry environments are also best for hiking in jeans. The desert during the winter is a great place to hike in Denims, as the temperatures are cool enough to hike without sweating too much and there is a pretty low risk of experiencing precipitation in any form!
The Worst Seasons to Hike in Jeans
The worst seasons to wear Levi's or Denim jeans for hiking are Summer and Winter. It's pretty much the same when it comes to hiking in sweatpants.
You really want to use outdoor wear at that time of the year. You want to have that nice cool moisture wicking fabric.
You also want to avoid going on a hike wearing jeans when you’re in environments that are consistently wet or snowy.
Summer is the worst season to wear jeans for hiking, because temperatures are usually fairly hot throughout the entire season.
You can’t avoid sweating through your jeans while you hike! In fact, just standing outside in jeans in temperatures above 80°F can cause you to sweat.
This can cause you to become uncomfortable quickly and can also put you at risk of hypothermia if temperatures dip below 50°F.
Winter can be just as bad a Summer due to the snow. Snow by itself isn’t wet, but as you hike, you can accumulate snow on the ankles of your jeans, which melts as you walk since it’s close to your body.
This results in your jeans getting wet and freezing, which can be uncomfortable at best and deadly at worst!
Be sure to wear pants that are made out of fabrics that won’t absorb water and help wick sweat away from your body. We recommend wearing winter hiking leggings in colder seasons.
What Fabrics Should You Wear Instead of Cotton Jeans?
Nylon and polyester fabrics are the absolute best fabrics to use when selecting your next pair of hiking bottoms. Sure they could have some cotton blends. Just some.
Most hiking clothes are made out of these fabrics. Yoga pants, for example, would be a suitable choice. And anything made of merino wool. Especially in winter.
And probably the best option would be wearing proper pants for hiking with reinforced knees.
Both are great because they are synthetic materials that are moisture wicking and hydrophobic.
This is basically the exact opposite of what cotton jeans do! Cotton jeans retain moisture, which is bad. Here’s an interesting discussion about nylon and polyester used for backpacking.
While both fabrics are great for hiking in, polyester is the best choice. It is far more durable than nylon fabric and it is 100% hydrophobic.
Nylon fabric is mostly hydrophobic, but it can absorb a tiny bit of water. While that isn’t terrible, the key to staying comfortable and safe while hiking is to stay dry!
Polyester fabrics are also really easy to find. You don’t need to know a guy, who knows a guy to buy a set of polyester pants!
For the cheapest option, check out big box stores like Walmart, Target, or even Amazon. These places tend to carry the least expensive polyester bottoms.
If your budget can handle it, REI carries a large selection of polyester hiking shorts and hiking pants. Just be sure that you take care of them because of their price point.
We happen to have a comprehensive guide on the best hiking leggings with pockets here. They are all made of polyester or nylon.
So what if you’re getting ready to go hiking and you’re just learning about all of this for the first time?
Should you cancel your hike completely? We don’t think that you should if you know how to mitigate the risks of wearing jeans while hiking.
Continue reading to learn what to do if you prefer to neglect wearing hiking clothes and go with jeans instead.
How to Stay Safe if you Must Wear Jeans
If you find yourself in a situation where you simply can’t avoid wearing jeans, be sure to do the following to mitigate the risk of getting wet and developing hypothermia.
Bring a plastic poncho For Rain Protection
Ponchos are great because they are cheap and easy to bring with you. They are a nice addition to your hiking clothes.
They pack up really small and are super lightweight, so you really don’t need to worry about the additional weight and space it will take up in your pack. In fact, they are so easily foldable, that you can stow them in any decent set of packing cubes.
If you can’t avoid hitting the trail in jeans, the best way to address the risk of an afternoon rain shower is to bring a poncho! Bad weather or just cold weather shouldn’t stop us from going out, right?
Avoid sitting on wet surfaces
Everyone needs a break from time to time while hiking. It’s a fairly strenuous physical activity! When you take a break, be sure to avoid sitting on anything that is wet to keep your jeans dry.
Before you sit on any surface, test it first by feeling it out with your hand. Even if it feels just a little bit damp, we recommend that you move on to find a suitable seat that is completely dry.
Cotton jeans will soak up any moister like a sponge, so it’s imperative that you only sit on dry surfaces.
If you can’t avoid sitting on a wet surface, place something on top of it that will act as a barrier between you and the seat. A great idea of something to use to sit on is a poncho!
Avoid Walking Through Water
Hiking trails often are prone to developing puddles of water after a long rain. They also can cut through streams or creeks, which means that you’ll need to cross that body of water if you mean to continue with your hike.
Do the best that you can to avoid walking through water that could get your jeans wet. If you can help it, stay on the trail.
If you’re in an emergency situation, by all means walk off trail as much as you need to in order to avoid stepping in water.
But if you’re not in dire straits, walking off trail to avoid water can cause unnecessary erosion that can be extremely damaging to the ecosystem.
So be prudent here and make a good decision based on the environment and what is appropriate to do in that moment.
Build A Fire And Dry Your Jeans
Accidents can happen in the backcountry when you least expect it. Sometimes you have to stay overnight when you didn’t intend to. And that in cold weather.
Be sure that you always have something to start a fire so you can stay nice and warm throughout your emergency overnight.
This is especially important if you hike in jeans, because if your jeans are wet and the sun goes down, the cold evening temperatures can zap your body of heat really fast!
Start a fire and take your jeans off if they are wet. Try to hang them up close enough to the fire that they can dry out, but not so close that you accidentally burn holes in them!
So, can you hike in jeans?
While jeans are a great, durable option for pants, they often aren’t suitable for hiking in. Nothing can replace proper hiking clothes. While you can try to wear jeans while hiking, the environment and season that you choose to hike in will sometimes cause you to make adjustments in your hiking apparel.
Be sure to always go prepared for any weather event! That way, you’ll be able to fully enjoy your hiking trip no matter what the weather throws at you.
Do you have any experience hiking in Levi’s or Denim pants? Drop a comment below!
Founder of this website, Asen is a passionate hiker and writer who is also a gear nerd. He’s been featured on many established hiking websites where he gives hiking advice & tips. When he is not trekking with his family or friends, he is writing articles and product reviews. Asen spends most of his time in Bulgaria but he constantly travels the world in seek of more unforgettable experiences. Read more about Asen here.